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Stories That Make For Exceptional Wines

"The best wines are those that have a taste of personality," says renowned connoisseur Michael Jank from Olympiaregion Seefeld.

Michael Jank’s passion for wine has made Olympiaregion Seefeld a true mecca for wine lovers and collectors. To those who think talking about wine is all about discussing its structure and body, Michael Jank’s personal view on wine will come as a surprise. Because the manager of the Tre Culinaria wine bar is convinced that a wine is only as good as the story behind it. In fact, for him it’s always about the person behind the wine.

The wine business and culture are shaped by such strong personalities as Michael Jank, the charismatic wine bar owner known for his exquisite taste. His vast knowledge and excellent service have been praised by professional magazines like the Rolling Pin. For the same reasons, his guests love to come to his bar for an apéritif, a glass of red or some Alpine tapas made of regional specialties like venison from the Gut Leutasch. Plus: Michael Jank’s impressive wine cellar with rarities from Austria and other Best of the Alps regions will make any connoisseur’s heart jump for joy.

Michael, where does your passion for wine come from?

I have been interested in wine from early on in my career, when I still worked in the hotel industry. But I really fell in love with it when I met Paul Kerschbaum, an excellent wine maker from Burgenland. Not only because he makes great wine, but also because of his impressive personality and character. Although he suffered from a serious illness, he never ever gave up.

Why are you so fascinated by the people and stories behind wine?

I would say it’s because of the personal relationships I share with many wine makers. Some of them have even become good friends. At my bar, we offer about 1000 wines and I meet about 280 wine makers every year. That’s why it’s important to me to really know the person behind each wine. To me, getting to know a new wine is like getting to know a new culture.

What type of wine, do you think, would represent the essence of Seefeld?

Well, Seefeld is a place of tradition, so I would go for a traditional grape variety. Grüner Veltliner, for example. It has a strong, spicy flavour, it is round, with a slightly exotic note.

Is the wine’s production process as important as its origin?

Yes, they are both important.

Talking about the production in particular...

It is the most exciting part of the wine. You can follow so many different approaches. Again, Grüner Veltliner is a good example: You can make it very simple, but you can also make it huge and impressive.
That’s what we do in Seefeld: We do big things and we do small things. That’s what makes it exciting and tells an interesting story.

What’s your take on new trends, such as biodynamic wines?

Sooner or later it always shows if new trends can really be successful. People used to drink wine with a lot of body and structure, to an extent that you couldn’t even taste the wine anymore. I also used to drink strong Chardonnays or red wines. But my taste has changed, today I want to be able to taste the wine instead of the wood barrel. That’s why I like Burgundy grapes, for example.

So your taste is constantly changing?

Yes, because you always try to reach perfection. You watch and learn to understand: Where does the taste go? You don’t have this understanding from the very beginning. 
Every wine is an exciting new challenge. You have to live and breathe the wine and most of all, the pleasure of drinking it. Once you have tried a Bâtonnage, you know how it tastes. To me, that’s what life is about. Because the pleasure stays with you and you have to celebrate it.

Does this make you and your taste more radical or more conservative?

Not so much radical, I would say. Maybe it made me go back to my roots and focus more on products from our own region. 

Your recommendations for Austrian wine?

There are many very interesting wines, because a lot of Austrian wine makers come from different professions and don’t have a wine making background, like Josef Igler, for example. Also Hans Schwarz came from a different profession, he used to be a butcher. Today he produces Austria’s best Zweigelt. To me it’s always interesting to know the whole story. Like the story about the Topf winery and its white Zweigelt: the skin of their grapes is red, but the juice is white. It’s been very successful.

How good is the quality of wines made by people who are new to the wine business compared to those of traditional wine makers? 

I think wine making has a lot to do with passion and your love for what you do. You have to have this certain feeling and understanding of your product as well as an understanding of nature and how you have to treat it. You either have that or you don’t.

It sounds a bit like you wish you had your own winery?

That would be a wonderful hobby. I actually produce our house cuvée together with a winery. I do all the adjustments, I have my own barrels and I determine the degree of ripeness.
To me the most interesting question is how to get the best quality out of the soil. 

What grapes would you grow in Seefeld?

Very old grape varieties like Neuburger, St. Tauern, Zweigelt or St. Laurent.

Your most memorable experience with wine?

That was in the La Perla hotel in Alta Badia with its huge Sassicaia wine cellar. That’s where wine culture is really celebrated.

How does your perfect day look like?

Playing golf, enjoying delicious food and drinks. In one word: Pleasure.

Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: David Payr // friendship.is

Oct. 13, 2016

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